Week of March 8, 2020
A weekly column by Police Chief Steven Wojnar of the Dudley Police Department
Motor vehicle stops by police officers are concerning for both the driver and the officer. Officers are on heightened states of alert in most of these situations, as most drivers are unknown to them at that time. Safety for everyone involved is a priority. I was asked to provide some information on what a person should do when being stopped by a police officer if they are in a “bad” location, such as a sharp corner. Should drivers stop immediately, or can they slow down and proceed to a safer location? What advice would I give to drivers in these circumstances?
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question. These circumstances always need to be looked at on a case by case basis. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90 Section 25 contains the violations of refusing to submit to police officers. According to this law, operators are supposed to stop for police officers who “display their badge of office.” Chapter 89 Section 7A requires operators to “immediately” pull over and stop their vehicle when there is an approaching police cruiser, ambulance, fire apparatus, or disaster vehicle. There are obligations requiring operators to pull over and stop.
Safety must be a consideration when it comes to these instances. Police officers must be aware of the areas and location of motor vehicle stops, such as “bad” corners. It is often difficult for an operator to know if they are being pulled over for a traffic violation or if the police officer is responding to an emergency elsewhere. If the latter is the case, their response may be delayed as they are forced to maneuver around your vehicle. The potential for accidents will also increase. My advice is to pull over as soon as possible. Should the officer approach and there is a potential problem, ask if you may proceed to a “safer” location such as a nearby parking lot, a straight away, or in a well-lit area at night. The officer may direct you to do the same, if he or she believes the situation requires a change of location. If you feel it is necessary to travel for a short distance in order to pull over safely, immediately reduce your speed and utilize your hazard lights. This will warn other drivers of the situation and the officer can understand that you are aware of their presence and intend to pull over as soon as possible.
The obligation to stop is always on the operator and any failure to do so could result in an arrest. Some reasonable allowances can be given by police officers, especially if they are aware of the dangerousness of the area. However, it is subject to their discretion, based upon the circumstances involved. Officers are aware of your concerns and should attempt to conduct these stops in “safe” locations whenever possible.
Thanks again for your questions and comments. Please send them to me at the Dudley Police Department 71 West Main St. Dudley, Ma. 01571 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this weekly column are those of Chief Wojnar only and unless clearly noted, do not reflect the ideas or opinions of any other organization or citizen.